Greece is where I fell in love with food. When I was 22, I travelled abroad for the first time as part of a travel-study program in university. We spent six weeks travelling through Greece with two professors and ten students to study ancient art and architecture. I tried lamb for the first time, then squid, octopus, eggplant, and discovered my beloved tzatziki. That 2008 trip opened my eyes (and my tastebuds) to all the delectable things the world had to offer. But, the funny thing is, while Greek food is one of my favourite cuisines, I never cook it. Like never. I’ve never even made my own tzatziki (GASP). So I knew Greece had to be part of Around the World in 12 Plates.
Around the World in 12 Plates: Greece
Have you ever tried to cook Greek food for two? It’s not easy! Most recipes are geared towards big groups, which is understandable considering the importance of family in Greek culture. The weekend I completed this month’s challenge, it was just Adam and I so we ate leftovers for a week. Luckily, we were about to move back to Newfoundland, so not cooking while we were packing up our lives in Toronto was pretty helpful.
The recipes we tried
For Around the World in 12 Plates: Greece, we used three difference recipes. The first was a traditional Greek salad, known to Greeks as Horiatiki Salad. Magdalini over at My Little Expat Kitchen has a great recipe for this simple staple. She grew up in Greece and now blogs about food from her kitchen in the Netherlands and makes the salad the way I first came to know it in Greece. There’s NO lettuce in there people.
The main event for the day was pastitsio, a baked pasta that is similar in construction to Italian lasagna, but not in flavours. The top layer is covered in a rich Bechamel sauce with a hint of nutmeg as opposed to mozzarella cheese. I had eaten it many times and it’s my favourite Greek dish, but I have never made it myself. We used a combination of two recipes to get the dish we wanted from blogs Souvlaki for the Soul and The Spruce. Tzatziki was also a necessity, so we made up a whole bunch using the recipe from Wanderlust Kitchen who took several cooking classes during her travels to Greece.
Note we didn’t make the dolmades pictured below, but I wanted to eat some. I got them from St. Lawrence market because I knew those ladies could make them better than I ever could.
Flavour town in Greece
A chef I once worked with told me he thought Greek food had no flavour. That the simple spices and lemon heavy dishes were bland. WHAT THE FUCK? I love the range of flavours in Greek food and found the dishes we ate for the challenge were jam packed with flavour. The pastitsio was SO delicious. The cinnamon in the meat sauce with the chunks of feta and the grated parmesan mingled harmoniously under a Bechamel blanket of deliciousness. The key with this dish is the noodles: I was able to track down the traditional pastitsio noodles from a specialty store in St. Lawrence Market and the long tubes of pasta helped keep everything together. I ate this for breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days without complaint.
The Horiatiki salad was also full of flavour, made with tomatoes, olives, cucumber, green peppers and a giant hunk of feta. For the challenge, I wanted to get an authentic recipe, and I really appreciated My Little Expat Kitchen’s stern messaging in hers:
Ingredients that should never, ever, under no circumstances, even if you once ate it like this somewhere in Greece, be included in a Horiatiki salad:
-Lettuce or leafy greens of any kind
-Yellow or red bell peppers
Man, it was so tasty. Look at all that feta baby! Topped with a light dressing of EVOO and red wine vinegar, this salad is light and refreshing for any time of year.
And last, but certainly not least, the tzatziki. One thing I learned while making tzatziki is that you need patience (which sadly I sometimes lack). You need to let the grated cucumber sit overnight to get the water out and take time to combine the ingredients. Otherwise you get a soupy tzatziki and no one wants that. I toned down the dill in our version as I’m not a huge fan and I wanted garlic to be forefront. Smooth, creamy and fresh, there aren’t many things I like to dive into more than a bowl of fresh-made tzatziki.
The challengers for Around the World in 12 Plates: Greece
Here are the intrepid bloggers who completed the fourth instalment of the challenge with recipes inspired by Greece: